A new study has found out how nicotine relieves anxiety in smokers. Researchers say that the study can help design ways to help people get over the addiction.

Researchers from Virginia Commonwealth University found that low doses of nicotine reduced anxiety levels in animals just like a nicotine receptor blocker. Thus, some nicotine subunits reduce anxiety by blocking out certain receptors rather than activating them.

"This work is unique because it suggests that nicotine may be acting through inactivation, rather than activation, of the high affinity nicotinic receptors," said Darlene Brunzell, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology in the VCU School of Medicine.

Researchers say that anxiety is one of the major reasons that people relapse into smoking. The data from the ongoing study suggests that by blocking out a subunit of the nicotine receptor, the beta2 subunit, relapses can be reduced. Inactivation of the Beta2 subunit reduces anxiety in people and is different from the reward mechanism of nicotine. Also, this mechanism occurs in a different region of the brain.

"Nicotine acts like a key that unlocks nicotine receptors in the brain. Usually that key opens the receptor, but at other times nicotine is like a key that has gotten broken inside of the lock. Our findings suggest that low-dose nicotine may block a specific subtype of receptor from opening that is important for regulating anxiety behavior," said Brunzell in a news release.

The research team will now be finding if blocking the beta2 subunit containing nicotinic receptors relieves anxiety in smokers.

"Understanding what other subunits combine with beta2 to form the critical receptors that regulate anxiety could lead to selective therapeutics with fewer side effects," she said.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.